A senior Chinese diplomat expressed backing for the World Health Organization on Wednesday, but said an invitation for the agency’s experts to visit Wuhan to look into the origins of the coronavirus must wait until after the pandemic is beaten.
“First things first: The top priority for the time being is to focus on the fight against the pandemic,” said Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to U.N. institutions in Geneva, when asked about the timing of a possible invitation for a WHO team. “We need the right focus and allocation of our resources.”
“So it’s not we are allergic to any kind of investigations, inquiries or evaluations,” he said, “as long as it will be beneficial to the international efforts.”
The comments from Chen amount to the latest Chinese diplomatic push, just as the United States has criticized the WHO over its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak that has infected millions and killed at least 250,000 people — and its alleged coziness with Beijing.
Chen said China is now on board for an initiative led by the WHO, many European countries and charity groups like the Gates Foundation to expedite vaccines and COVID-19 treatment tools to developing countries. He didn’t offer details on how China would show its support.
The U.S. meanwhile has not lined up for the Access to COVID-19 Tools, or ACT, “Accelerator” that aims to help the most vulnerable countries gain access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatment tools for the coronavirus as they emerge.
President Donald Trump’s administration has criticized the WHO’s handling of the early outbreak and announced a suspension of funding from the U.S. — the U.N. agency’s top donor. Administration officials have accused the WHO of covering up missteps as the outbreak emerged in Wuhan.
Chen said the U.S. was “duty-bound” to keep up its funding.
“We do hope that the Americans could have second thoughts, to come back to the right track,” he said, offering support and praise for the WHO and Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and expressing his “total confidence” in the integrity of the agency.
Trump last week criticized the WHO as an apparent “pipe organ” and public-relations agency for Beijing and pointed to unspecified “evidence” that the outbreak came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Many scientists and the WHO believe the outbreak has its origins in nature.